'UN must put pressure on North Korea to de-escalate nuclear tensions'

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Britain has called for a de-escalation of tensions over North Korea's nuclear programme after the regime issued a renewed threat to launch a missile strike on the US Pacific island territory of Guam.

First Secretary of State Damian Green said it is "obviously" in Britain's interests that the stand-off between Washington and Pyongyang does not lead to conflict.

He said the "sensible" way to proceed is to step up international pressure on the regime of Kim Jong Un through the United Nations.

"It is obviously in all our interests to make sure that nothing escalates," Mr Green told reporters during a visit to Edinburgh.

"We are very strongly in support of the UN process, which has and continues to put pressure on North Korea to stop acting in an irresponsible way, and we will continue strongly to support the UN process which will, I hope, help to de-escalate tensions."

Asked whether US President Donald Trump was wise to threaten to unleash "fire and fury" on the regime, Mr Green said: "I think the sensible way for people to proceed is to work through the UN process, that's what the British Government has been supporting and will continue to support.

"We think that the North Korean government has not been behaving properly and I hope they respond to the pressure from the UN."

Mr Trump warned on Tuesday that the US would respond with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if North Korea continued its threats.

It followed the disclosure that US intelligence analysts had concluded that North Korean scientists had developed a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.

Pyongyang responded by threatening to launch a missile strike towards Guam, which houses two major US military bases.

In its latest pronouncement, North Korea said plans were being finalised to fire four Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan and into the seas around the island.

It said the plan - which would involve the missiles landing in waters as close as 20 miles from Guam - would be submitted to President Kim for approval in the next week or so.

While North Korea has a long history of issuing bellicose threats, the rapidly escalating war of words with the US has alarmed American allies in the region.

Analysts have warned that any military confrontation could swiftly escalate into a full-scale war with devastating consequences across the Korean peninsula.

The UN Security Council last weekend backed a punishing new round of sanctions against North Korea following the test firing of two intercontinental ballistic missiles which experts believe could be capable of hitting the US mainland.

The resolution was backed by China - North Korea's principal ally - and Russia.

However the regime has so far appeared impervious to the increasing international pressure, making clear it intends to press on with its nuclear and missile programmes.